Clothing - almost every human being on the planet wears some form of it. As an import industry in the United States, it brings in over $80 billion annually. Knowing the regulations for how to import clothes to the U.S. can help you navigate the process successfully.
Importing clothing and apparel into the U.S. requires compliance with multiple government agencies. These agencies include the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Labeling laws should be reviewed for compliance with various regulations.
Our guide below details five rules for importing clothing and apparel to the U.S. that will help you avoid heavy penalties and delays.
Frequently the most popular of U.S. imports, clothing and apparel are a big deal in the international trade industry. Keeping up with the demand for various styles, materials, and accessories requires carefully navigating a lengthy list of rules.
It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the nations that the U.S. frequently imports clothing from. China, Vietnam, and India account for over half of the total value of imports. When choosing manufacturers in these countries, it is important to be sure they are up to U.S. standards.
All imports must be inspected and approved by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency when arriving at a port of entry. For clothing and textile imports, the CBP works together with a number of other government agencies to ensure compliance for labeling, materials, and more.
One or more of the following agencies may likely need to be addressed when completing your shipping documentation.
Meeting all the requirements set by supervising government agencies is one way to improve the chances your shipment clears customs quickly and efficiently.
Footwear is not considered clothing, but it is considered to be apparel. Importing footwear is similar to importing clothing in the sense that there needs to be documentation of fabric types and specific labeling. However, there are several more identifying factors on shoes that are not in consideration for clothing.
For more information on importing footwear, check out our article, “How to Import Shoes to the U.S.”
The Care Labeling Rule was created by the FTC to ensure that imported or domestically manufactured clothing contained a label detailing regular care instructions. The label may include information on whether garments are machine washable or must be drycleaned. The label must also include any warnings such as ‘Do not iron’ if such an action would damage the item.
Some textile apparel and accessories are exempt from this rule, such as:
Although you can import items that don’t have a care label included, the clothing cannot be sold until such a label is attached. Labels should be permanently attached, so it may be best to find a supplier or manufacturer who will do this before shipping.
The FTC will fine each individual garment that is found to be missing a label or containing a label with inaccurate information. Finding a trustworthy supplier or manufacturer is therefore crucial.
Are any of the goods you import from China manufactured in or sourced from the Xinjiang region? Any goods or materials produced in the region are prohibited from entry into the U.S., including cotton and textiles. Read our article on the Xinjiang import ban to find out more and avoid having your shipment fined and detained.
Before you ring the bells on wedding gown and bridal wear imports, there are additional requirements for their labels. Labels for wedding gowns and bridal attire, in general, need to have information that goes beyond cleaning and care instructions.
Labels for wedding gowns will also change based on the material used. The Textile and Wool Acts play a role in this process. In total there are four items that must be defined.
|Business Identification||Fiber Content||Country of Origin||Care Instructions|
Manufacturer’s Registered Identification Number (RN)
Distributor’s name or RN
|Names and weight percentages of materials used|
Any wool content must be listed
|Identification of where processing or manufacturing took place||Must list at least one safe cleaning method|
Must list applicable warnings of cleaning method
Violations in labeling based on the Textile and Wool Act may be filed separately or in addition to violations of the Care Labeling Rule.
The marking requirements apply to wearable apparel and are separate from the FTC’s Care Labeling Rule. Marking requirements are set up by the CBP to be in compliance with the North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act (Mod Act). The Mod Act makes sure that the CBP provides the trade community with clearly defined information and rules for the importing process.
Their guidebook, available from the CBP, details the requirements for information such as:
The CBP’s marking requirements are extensive and while their guidebook provides excellent details, it is meant as a general guide only. Reaching out to a Licensed Customs Broker may be the best way to be sure you are satisfying all related factors affecting import. Experienced brokers may assist on proper classifications of products to avoid fines and penalties.
Making sure clothing is safe and made from textiles that meet U.S. safety standards is good for businesses and their customers. When it comes to fire safety, the CPSC has strict regulations in place.
They enforce regulations with the power of three different acts.
Any violations may result in not only fines, but in having your shipments destroyed in port on your dime.
All clothing intended for everyday wear by adults or children has to meet the General Wearing Apparel Standard (16 C.F.R. Part 1610). The standard is used to rate the flammability of textile used in clothing and has three levels. Any textile identified as Class 3 cannot be used in clothing.
While there are exceptions to the standard, it is best to have an experienced broker alongside to navigate the differences.
Do you need an import compliance manual for your business? Make sure that all of your bases are covered in the event of an inspection by CBP, especially if importing goods that are impacted by an import ban like cotton and textiles. Read more about import compliance manuals and get help determining if it's the right move for you.
When it comes to children’s products, the CPSC has even stricter guidelines. The requirements for importing children’s clothing in general, and sleepwear specifically, cover not only the textile but also attachments like buttons and zippers.
To import children’s clothing, the General Wearing Apparel Standard must be certified by a 3rd party lab test approved by the CPSC. If the clothing is being marketed as children’s sleepwear, the fabric used must be able to self-extinguish after being removed from a small fire or heat source. Fabrics don’t have to be fire retardant, but pretty close.
As with adult clothing, there are exceptions, but these should be consulted over with someone experienced in clothing imports.
Finally, you want to make sure that import duty rates are being paid correctly to the CBP. Trade goods are classified through Harmonized Tariff Schedule codes. These HTC codes determine tariff rates for each product entering U.S. ports of entry.
If you use the HTS code, the taxes you pay may be incorrect. Whether the amount you pay is higher or lower, fixing the mistake takes time and usually results in penalties. Mistaken HTS codes may also result in your shipments being exported out or destroyed. You might have complied with all the laws, but if your shipments were mislabeled it could cost you in lost merchandise.
There are several different look up tools that allow you to search on your own, but this might be risky especially if you are new to the import business. Hiring a customs consultant may save you money in the long run.
For more information on finding HTS codes, check out our article, “How do I Find my HTS Code?”
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